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Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Bungendore experiencing growing pains

A unique green space slated for a carpark in the heart of Bungendore may have been given a reprieve – at least temporarily – while council, community action groups and environmental advocates attempt to find a compromise.

The small regional town 15 minutes’ drive east of Canberra is under pressure to provide infrastructure for its growing population, which now stands at more than 4,000 people, more than three times the 2011 census count of 1,316.

The Queanbeyan-Palerang Regional Council (QPRC) released a town planning document in July 2019 reporting an expected further growth of up to 12,000 people in Bungendore by 2048.

Following the release of the planning document and exhibition of the proposed carpark design, council amended the concept to include 71 car spaces, public toilets, and electric vehicle charging stations at the rear of properties fronting Ellendon Street, Malbon Street and Gibraltar Street.

But the Bungendore Central Car Park Plan was met with fierce opposition from the Bungendore Climate Action Committee (BCAC) who have since garnered more than 800 signatures for their own “compromise plan” that calls for the carpark to be built on a “less historic” piece of land, right next door.

Queanbeyan-Palerang Mayor Tim Overall said it would not be accurate to describe it as “green space on the main road”.

“The council property being an internal disused area with two dilapidated sheds,” Mr Overall said.

Mr Overall said further representations and presentations from a wider cross-section of the community led to Council’s resolution to workshop options and further report to QPRC.

“The workshop was held last night (16 September) and staff will now submit a further report to a meeting of Council in October or November,” Mr Overall said.

“The report is expected to include a number of options.”

BCAC member Judith Turley said she believed the group’s alternative proposal would meet the needs of community and business owners alike.

Ms Turley said the problem for Bungendore was not too many vehicles, but too few visitors.

“Times are hard for retail businesses in Bungendore right now. It is a global problem. COVID-19 restrictions and competition from online shopping have forced many shops to temporarily or permanently close,” she said. 

“Up to 10 years ago there was not one vacant commercial or residential building in Gibraltar, Ellendon or Malbon Streets, but currently there are at least 10 non-operational or closed commercial premises on those streets, which only serves to accentuate the tired shabby streetscape, and the depressed economic reality facing small businesses.

“Visitor numbers have plummeted and there is very little for the drive-through traffic or tourists to stop for.

“At this point in time, the construction of a very large and expensive carpark is hard to justify both socially and economically. 

Rather than a carpark, the group believes the space could be turned into an attractive central green sanctuary for special interest markets, functions and events, creating a destination for visitors and increasing visitor numbers.

“Vibrancy generates business, not concrete carparks,” Ms Turley said.

“If the gardens were retained, maintained and supplied with picnic tables, seating and waste bins, visitors to Bungendore would be enticed to stay.” 

A local business survey found of the 32 affected businesses, 22 stated they do not agree with the carpark plan in its current form.

Ms Turley said the original justification for the size of the carpark was based on projected 20-year population growth and a supermarket in Gibraltar Street that will no longer be built.

This means the carpark could be moved to the smaller block of land next door without disturbing the historic site.

“We understand that the owner of the landlocked parcel of land behind Gibraltar Street is amenable to the idea of selling, however, he has not yet been approached,” Ms Turley said. 

“If this landlocked parcel were purchased by Council, it would provide a perfect alternative to Council’s current Stage 1 carpark plan and would be wholly Council owned.”

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